October 2015 Issue

CIOs deal with the 'L word'

Good news: Replacing legacy systems is getting some genuine support from CEOs and business leaders, along with a healthy dose of urgency

Oh, how we love to hate the L word in this industry. Legacy systems provide the most convenient scapegoat in the business lexicon today. They get the blame for everything from hobbling innovation and fouling up customer service to destroying a company's competitive edge. Who needs the Big Bad Wolf when you have a data center?

All this demonizing gets on my nerves just a bit, as it tends to sweep CIOs and their IT organizations into the blame bin along with those nasty old technologies. Yet you can slap the L word label on any technology older than 12 months these days. Soon, that will be six months.

So maybe it's time for some legacy therapy to clear the air. A little compassionate listening between IT and business people. Some blame-free problem solving in the C-suite. (Nobody has to hug.) Our therapeutic contribution is our feature story "Bold CIOs Are Breaking Free of Legacy Tech," in which we explore some smart, workable ways companies are moving beyond the legacy blame game and delivering greater business value (well, maybe a hug is in order).

There's actually a lot of good news in our story. Legacy replacement is getting genuine support from CEOs and business leaders now, along with a healthy dose of urgency. "The business units' CEOs are driving the move to get rid of legacy," says Clay Johnson, global CIO of GE Power & Water, which used a combination of cloud services and consolidation to cut spending on IT server infrastructure by $19 million in just the past 18 months.

At Land O'Lakes, where IT expenses were once considered a necessary evil, the company leadership woke up to the potential strategic value of IT as a growth enabler in 2008. Moving its core systems to the cloud wasn't originally in the plan, explains CIO Mike Macrie, "but halfway through, we realized the value and speed to market [enabled by software as a service]."

Discover Financial Services took a different approach, replacing an older banking platform with software built on an open architecture. "It allowed us to connect our applications from our card business and lending business and our banking business into one platform," says CIO Glenn Schneider. "It allowed us to create a seamless experience across all channels."

Underneath it all, this is a story about managing change and embracing the future. Breaking free of legacy systems is every bit as much about people, process and company culture as it is about technology. (Cleansing breath, everyone. This concludes your therapy session.)

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